MOULMEIN, Mon State — More than 2,000 locals from villages in Kyaikmayaw and Moulmein townships staged a protest march in Moulmein on Friday against a cement factory’s coal-fired power plant.
This is the second protest against the US$400 million, 500-ton cement factory, run by Mawlamyine Cement Limited (MCL) – a joint venture between Thai firm Siam Cement Group (SCG) and Pacific Link Cement Industries.
One of the protest leaders, Nai Ye Zaw, said that locals staged the protest because the President, the Mon State government and Parliament did not respond to their complaints about the cement factory.
“The factory was not built transparently and we haven’t received a proper response regarding our complaints, so we are protesting,” Nai Ye Zaw announced at the protest.
He said that a petition was sent to the president calling for use of a fuel other than coal at the factory, as well as the conservation of the environment and waterways.
Locals would not have accepted the cement factory project if the company had said openly that it was going to be powered by coal, said Nai Shwe Win, a member of a local community group named after Mt. Pyataung from which raw materials for the cement factory come.
“We only found out when vessels began transporting coal on the Attaran River in 2015,” he said. “If we had known earlier, we would have protested then.”
According to officials of Mon State’s Myanmar Port Authority, nearly 200,000 tons of coal have been shipped from Moulmein Port to the plant along the Attaran River since 2015.
Fisherman U Aung Tin Oo from Kyaikmayaw Township complained that fishing has been largely disrupted due to engine noise and waves created by these coal-carrying ships.
Locals are gravely concerned that coal will have negative health impacts, and many have recently covered water wells in their homes out of fear that rainwater polluted by coal fumes would enter the wells,” said Ma Ni Ni Aung from Kun Ngan Village.
The factory started commercial operation in April despite local opposition.
On Feb. 18, about 7,000 locals from seven villages near the factory staged a protest against the coal-fired power plant. In April last year, locals sent a petition with 3,780 signatures to the President’s Office, demanding the termination of the project.
Protesters originally planned to stage a march toward the Mon State government and Parliament with up to 10,000 people, but the Mon State government only allowed 3,000 protesters to participate and would not permit the demonstration to take place in front of the divisional government or parliament.
The minister of natural resources and environmental conservation in June instructed the Mon State government to submit monthly environmental impact assessment reports on the MCL cement factory.
Under the agreement with the Myanmar Investment Commission, the factory will operate for 50 years from the start of commercial operations.